After an 18 months which has seen a dramatic shift in the way consumers approach retail, a new report sheds light on exactly how much of a role the online marketplace has played throughout the pandemic.

New research into consumer shopping trends across four key English-speaking markets, the UK, USA, Canada, and Australia, during the pandemic reveals the UK saw the greatest increase in online sales as a percentage of total retail sales.

Commissioned by online shopping app, Wholee Prime, the study shows UK online retail sales grew from a low of 19 per cent in the lead up to the first lockdown in March 2020 before increasing to a high of 36 per cent in November 2020 amidst the second lockdown before returning to 36 per cent in January 2021 during the third and final lockdown. Each market saw the greatest proportional increase in online sales at the start of the first lockdown.

Titled 'Covid and Online Retail: The pandemic and its effect on global shopping habits' the report demonstrates that throughout the period the UK continuously enjoyed a higher proportion of online sales as a total of all retail sales relative to the other markets. From January 2020 to April 2021 the UK saw the proportion of online sales average 29 per cent, while the US had the second highest share (15 per cent); Australia (9 per cent); and Canada (7 per cent).

The UK online retail market was also the most reactive to changes in pandemic restrictions, with online sales rising and falling as restrictions were introduced and lifted.

UK Industry Analysis

The report also examines the effects of lockdown on key retail sectors, specifically clothing, household goods and food.

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Using data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the report reveals that all three sectors saw an increase in online retail's share of sales as the pandemic began, especially for those goods deemed 'non-essential'. Even food saw a doubling in the proportion of online sales from March to April 2020.

Most notably, however, as shops began to reopen at the start of the summer, the share of online household goods sold fell below that for clothing. Except for April 2021, the proportion of online clothing sales has consistently been higher than that for household goods. The report's authors attribute the trend to consumers becoming more relaxed in terms of purchasing products off the shelf, but that their feelings regarding trying clothes in a physical store remained cautious.

In terms of food sales, the figures show a sustained increase in the proportion of online sales since the start of lockdown.

UK vs. US

Most notably, the report compares online clothing sales in the US to those of the UK. It reveals that while both markets saw a rise and fall in online sales as the first lockdown began and ended; in the UK this was followed by a sustained increase in the share of online clothing sales, while in the US the opposite was true with online clothing sales stagnating.

Commenting on the figures, a Wholee Prime spokesperson said of the findings:

"The last year has been one of huge upheaval for the entire global retail industry. Brands, supply chains, and consumers have all had to reassess their approach to the retail industry. This report gives real insight into just how much of a transformation the industry has undergone.

"It shows how the pandemic has accelerated the already growing importance of online retail, with consumers who were sceptical of shopping online now aware of the possibilities the online marketplace can provide. Even as the world begins to reopen and shoppers return to in-store retailers, we believe this data shows that online retail has begun its march towards domination of overall retail sales."

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